And while kids' games aren't as violent or profane as their grown-up counterparts, they're not all sunshine and rainbows, either. "I don't think it's too hard trying to make a visually dark theme that's fun and not too mature," says Marc Gomez, art director for A Boy and His Blob. "The hard part I think is trying to work a design that stays away from certain themes that publishers want you to avoid because it clashes with their license. This happens on occasion, but it's just a matter of finding alternatives that don't modify gameplay too much." A Boy and His Blob certainly has its share of darkness. The game's enemies are creepy, Miyazaki-like blobs with glowing yellow eyes. The evil Emperor's castle is decorated with grim skull motifs, and the enslaved inhabitants of Blobolonia hang in its hallways in cages.


The worlds created in children's games are as rich as those in adult games, but adult players don't always see that richness. The truth about these games is that they might suffer for being played by adults not because of anything lacking in them but because of our expectations. The ways in which people approach the games they play are critical in shaping their experiences with them. If they expect that a game will be simplified or dumbed-down, then they will inevitably notice the ways in which it could have been more robust. Adults who play kids' games expecting an experience that's inherently inferior to what they'd get from a more mature title will more than likely receive exactly that.

This isn't to say that adults should check any and all criticism at the door. A game that isn't fun is just that: not fun, and it's not necessarily going to become more fun if you just try harder to like it. Rather, this means that to fully embrace the unique worlds kids' games have to offer, adults should bring to them the same openness that kids themselves bring. Warren Spector, director of Disney's Epic Mickey, said, "The amazing thing about kids is how accepting they are, how open-minded, how playful. We've watched children and adults play [our game] now and kids just 'get' it. They instinctively experiment and explore and play without fear of looking silly, without fear of failure, without expectations about how the world should look and feel. Adults overthink things, try to avoid embarrassment or failure and, yes, I think they expect things, graphically, that have nothing to do with gameplay or fun."

It can be entertaining to kvetch about the sameness of videogames, but that sells the medium short. There are more experiences to be had than that of a jarhead with an M40 or a bald space marine in yet another space station. You don't need to surrender your copies of Dragon Age or Dead Space, but if you're feeling like you've already seen everything on offer, consider a game for a different audience.

And with Plants vs. Zombies, you wouldn't even have to give up the zombies.

Adam Greenbrier has only animated movies and The Wire in his Netflix queue. You can read more of his thoughts at his newly minted blog, The Clockwork House.

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